Here is the story of a man who came to a watchmaker with the hands of a clock and told him,
“Please, fix these hands for me; they haven’t shown the right time for more than six months now!”
"Where is the clock?" answered the watchmaker.
"It’s at home, over there on the hill."
"But I must have the clock."
"I just told you; there is nothing wrong with the clock. The problem is with the hands. You just want me to bring you the clock so you can tinker with it and charge me a big price. Give me back those hands!” he said, and so doing, went off in a huff and a puff to find a reasonable watchmaker.
Foolish as he was, his caution is very like those of us who would regulate the motions of our lives without being made right on the inside. We think we can regulate our words and our actions with sheer will and discipline. We may even try to regulate our thoughts, as if it were possible. It may work for a while but one can only live so long under the pressure of such discipline. It eventually builds pressure and like the proverbial pressure cooker, if not given an outlet, it will explode. Very often, those of us who have tried it fall under the delusion that we succeed while forgetting that, like with the pressure-cooker, we have allowed ourselves a secret outlet of ‘misbehavior’ that keeps us from exploding. At the end of the day, the only way to regulate the ‘hands’, it to fix the ‘clock’, which is the inclination of our heart.
And why don’t we want to fix our heart? Just like the foolish man with the watchmaker, it is because it may cost too much. We may have to let go of some habit, grudge, opinion, attitude or behavior. "I only wish to avoid this or that habit or behavior," we say. But the Master Workman says, "I cannot fix the hands unless you give me the heart!”
From the first steps we take to our first job, first credit card, getting married, giving birth, fathering a child, another child, and maybe another one, retiring, to the day we prepare to leave this world, life is full of frightening firsts.
When we take our first steps we look intently into the eyes of our mother or father. We are full of faith and we know that they will catch us if we should fall. But as life goes on, we do not have our parents to catch us and we need to face many ‘firsts’ alone. Most of the lessons we learn come from the tumbles we take in these first ‘firsts’.
It is natural to be fearful of new realities in our life. To not be would almost be a form of denial or insouciance. That is why man is to live in a society where the elders can help the younger; where the veteran can help the novice. We often see teenagers who, so sure of themselves, arrogantly ignore their parents, sheepishly return home for some help and good advice as they start facing the difficult realities of paying their own bills, independent living and raising a family. Sad to say, these situations which should resolve in people helping each other often end in bitter ‘I told you so’ conflicts.
Here is an anecdote i found to illustrate the point.
“An English naval officer," writes C.G. Trumbull, "has told a grateful story of the way he was helped and saved from dishonor in his first experience in battle. He was a midshipman, fourteen years old. The volleys of the enemy's musketry so terrified him that he almost fainted. The officer over him saw his state, and came close beside him, keeping his own face toward the enemy, and held the midshipman's hand, saying in a calm, quiet, affectionate way, "Courage, my boy. You will recover in a minute or two. I was just like that when I went into my first battle." The young man said afterward that it was as if an angel had come to him and put new strength into him. The whole burden of his agony was gone, and from that moment he was as brave as the oldest of the men. If the officer had dealt sternly with him, he might have driven him to cowardly failure. His kindly sympathy with him dispelled all fear, put courage into his heart and made him brave for battle.
A true leader is one who has the ability to give courage and make others also feel great.
The school where I work has me teaching a class on Biblical astronomy this semester. It really is an ‘out of this world’ class. With a simple program we can reconstruct what the magis saw in the sky 2,000 years ago.
As we look at the different celestial objects we have to make the difference between stars and planets. Even though they seem to be travelling the sky, stars are stationary. We are the ones on planet earth who move. Planets on the contrary travel the sky. That’s where the word ‘planet’ comes from: ‘The wandering ones.’
This week I was studying the phenomena of ‘retrograde motion’, (click on the link for youtube explanation). Retrograde motion is when a planet in the sky seems to move backward and then resume its forward course. Planets travel in a circular orbit in one direction. They do not change the direction of their course at will. Why then does it dsometime seem that they change direction? That’s actually it. They ‘SEEM’ to change direction, but do they really? This seeming change of direction is an optical illusion created by the fact that we reference the movement of that planet from the perspective of other far away stationery stars. The travelling speed of the earth, accompanied with that of the planet in question, against the backdrop of these stationary stars give us the illusion that the planet is changing the direction of its course. It is in fact the backdrop of these stars which give us the illusion of progress or regress of the planet in question.
Studying this phenomenon made me wonder. How can we claim to rightfully judge and assess static situations and intelligent people, when we can be so easily fooled by inanimate object? We usually judge people and situations against the standard of the backdrop of others. We establish judgement according to certain self-imposed baselines. Our conclusions therefore are mostly dependant of the backdrop we use, and as in the case of the retrograde motion, we can be fooled by our own chosen standard unit of measurement. As we are unable to see the depth of the cosmos with the naked eye, we are also unable see the fulness of the depth of the human soul.
It is a part of life that we have to judge and assess situations and people. As we do, we may ask ourselves how we would fare were we to be judged against the backdrops and standard we use to judge others. Do we also use the same hard backdrop when we judge ourselves?
Maybe this is why we have been rightfully advised, ‘"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
Whenever we are here in mid-summer, my wife and I love to go browse the booths and listen to the music at the Estacada Summer Celebration. On one such year, we were strolling down Broadway (it sounds fancy to say it like that even though it’s just Estacada) and as she often does, my wife stopped to talk with a lady she knew. I walked away a little browsing the items in the booth and my eyes fell on a famous quotation in a nice wooden frame. The frame was nice but I was more interested in the quotation. I read it and wrote it on a note app on my phone hoping that the booth owner wouldn’t mind..
This quotation really got me thinking. I always wanted to to write something about it but had forgotten it until today when I found it again as I was checking all the little notes in my phone app.
This quotation made me think of free choice. Of all that fills God’s good earth, we are the only creature endowed with what has been coined ‘The Majesty of Choice.’ Many creatures indulge in behavior that we consider outright wrong to say the least such as gerbils who eat their young when their living space becomes too small. In the case of gerbils, not only they do not have the choice, but neither have they been taught a moral compass. They just instinctively do what comes naturally to them.
What about us then? We have this awesome thing called ‘choice’ which enables us to do good, to act right, and to even do random acts of kindness, and sometimes we do. I can bear witness that the world has given birth to great heroes who are not afraid to lay down their lives for others; people who, unlike gerbils, share their space at their own cost; but do they comprise the vast majority of all humanity? If not, why not? And mostly: what creates the difference between those who do and those who don’t? Does it have to do with choice? Do we have this awesome majesty of ‘choice’ but we don’t use it to choose the good, the right, and the moral but instead, like the gerbil, are lead by our ‘natural’ instinct? And if we don’t choose the good, the right, and the moral, why not? Is it because we do not love the good, the right, and the moral? We always choose the things we love.
By the way, before I forget, you may be curious as to the quote that inspired me this muse. It is from the most prolific author history has ever known. His name is Unknown and he is credited with many more sayings like this one:
’WE ARE SHAPED AND FASHIONED BY THE THINGS WE LOVE.’
Maybe it’s another way of saying,’We grow like the people (or concepts) we live with’!
For the last few weeks I have been reading about the experiences of the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert. The story seems to be a mix of experiences where one can find ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’. Which one is it really about though? I guess it depends what kind of lens we use to look at it.
Even the prophets of Israel seemed to have different opinions. One talks about it as a series of failures, while the other describes it as a honeymoon with God. Later the Apostle Paul also makes mention of it. He brings it up as experiences written for the benefit of future generations.
The way I see it, it is like life in general. Whether our marriage, raising our children, our professional or religious accomplishments, they all seem to be a mix where we can find ‘failure’ and ‘honeymoon’ ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’. It seems to be a prevalent truth in everything else for that matter; that whatever we find in any given situation depends on what we look for.
I personally find it to be one of the great duties of life to strive to find the good and the positive in everything and everyone. There was a old lady one time who also found it a great virtue to look on the positive side of things. A friend who could not understand how this poor was able to find the ‘honeymoon’ in everything asked,”My; I don’t understand you; I bet you could even find something positive to say about the devil!” she replied, “Well, you must admit; he is pretty persistent!”
I heard a little song one day. It goes like this:
All through life my brother
If you’d be a happy soul
Keep your eyes upon the doughnut
And not upon the hole!
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